By Susan Miller
Missourian Staff Writer
Teacher negotiations again was a topic of discussion at the Washington School Board meeting Wednesday night.
For several months, board members and school officials have discussed whether to adopt policies recognizing one or more unions to represent teachers and how that process would work.
Action on the policies, which would in part lay out the process for teachers to decide who would represent them, could happen next month.
Currently, there are no formal policies in place for collective bargaining. Each year representatives of two teacher groups, the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) and Washington’s NEA, meet with administrators to discuss salary, benefits and other conditions of employment.
That process has been in place for a very long time and seems to have worked well, said Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer.
But, NEA representatives want to change that process and have informally indicated they would like to be the exclusive union at the bargaining table.
“We have not received a formal request because we have no policies in place on how that would be done,” said VanLeer. “So, based on legal advice, we feel it would be in the district’s best interest to adopt policies and a process to recognize a union or teachers association.”
MSTA representatives have told the board and administration they would prefer to keep the process as is with multiple representatives.
Angel Young, a MSTA member and middle school teacher, appealed to the board Wednesday night to avoid an election saying it would divide teachers.
Washington NEA would like to see the issue go to a vote.
VanLeer said the district cannot choose sides and has been advised by their attorney to put policies in place defining the process and leave it up to the teachers to decide who will represent them.
“This is not something we would have initiated, but we have a group saying they want to be the exclusive representative,” she said.
School board member Dan Contarini said the district cannot legally deny an election and without guidelines in place, it could be left to the courts to decide which has happened in other areas.
VanLeer concurred, saying “as much as we may not like this,” there’s not a lot we can do to stop it.
At Wednesday’s meeting Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brendan Mahon briefly discussed the proposed policies — specifically the one that outlines the process the district would follow to recognize a union for collective bargaining purposes.
Two other policies deal with employee walkouts, strikes or other disruptions, which would be prohibited, and how the actual negotiations would be handled once a union or unions are selected.
The board has been reviewing the policies for several months, along with the comments recently submitted by the district’s attorney.
The policy which would outline the process in recognizing a union, in part, states:
The school board will not voluntarily recognize an organization, association, union or professional group as a representative for district teachers without a secret ballot election.
To request an election, a teacher must first submit to the superintendent or designee a description of the bargaining unit requesting representation, as well as a petition signed by at least 30 percent of teachers in the proposed bargaining unit.
Once that happens, the district will post notice of the request and teachers interested in representation by a different group or union would have 20 days to submit a request and submit their own teacher petition, except that only 10 percent of teacher signatures are required.
Then, the school board would be required to set a date for an election to take place.
In the first election, teachers would be asked to decide among exclusive representation, meaning only one union would represent teachers in collective bargaining; multiple representation, in which two or more unions would negotiate; or no representation.
If exclusive representation receives the majority vote then another election will be held to determine which union will represent the teachers.
Another election also will be held if multiple representation receives the majority vote to determine which groups will represent. Teachers also may vote during this election not to be represented by any union.
All unions that receive 30 percent of the vote in the second election will be considered part of the bargaining unit, and all negotiations will be conducted with all representatives at the same time.
If the majority in the first election select no representation, the process is complete and a petition requesting another election will not be accepted for at least one year.
If none of the options receive the majority vote in the first election, then the board will assume teachers are not interested in multiple unions, and an election will be held for the bargaining unit to select an exclusive representative or decide not to be represented by any union.